oday, more than a year after the
terrorist attacks, Lynda Spinner, manager of the AAA Travel branch
in Brooklyn, N.Y., remains focused on keeping up the morale of her
In this, the certified travel consultant gets more than a little
help from above. Above, in this case, is New York AAA headquarters
in Garden City.
Business had plummeted after the World Trade Center disaster a
few miles away, yet home office management kept everyone on the
staff working, Spinner said.
Not only were regular salaries continued, but scheduled raises,
incentive plans and fringe benefits were retained, she said.
And the employees, all salaried workers, still earned bonuses
and fam tour day credits when they met or exceeded their commission
"The policy to
continue everything was an incredibly generous thing to do,"
Spinner said. "It was a real morale-booster. In fact, there has
been no staff turnover since 9/11."
To keep everyone productive, Spinner relies on teamwork, both
within the branch and with the Garden City headquarters.
For example, branch employees who need to take a day off during
the week may do so, she said, by arranging to work at the Sunday
telephone sales operation at headquarters.
There, the staff handles "impulse" calls stimulated by Sunday
travel section advertising. (The Brooklyn branch is open Mondays
through Saturdays, but not Sundays.)
Another morale-booster is cross-selling within the branch.
This effort maximizes revenue and employee productivity and,
thus, the staff's eligibility for bonuses, Spinner said.
She gave this example: Customers need not be AAA members, but
AAA Travel brings in many annual memberships when its nonmember
clients are told about AAA's member discounts. (The first year's
membership is $55, which includes a $10 initiation fee.)
Another example of cross-selling: AAA members who come in to
purchase such items as fee-free traveler's checks, foreign currency
and discounted theme-park tickets from the cashier are reminded
that they can book discounted cruises, air fares and hotel rooms
just steps away, Spinner said.
The receptionist also is part of the cross-selling mechanism.
Members who come in to get free maps and guidebooks are referred to
travel counselors when it's appropriate.
Counselors, who are divided into auto-routing/domestic
specialists and international/cruise specialists, use a soft-sell
approach to sign up nonmembers.
They point out that the benefits of membership -- AAA discounts
on tours and cruises offered by preferred suppliers and reduced
agency fees on air ticketing, for example -- outweigh the
membership cost, Spinner said.
-- Henry Magenheim
t AAA Travel's Brooklyn, N.Y.,
branch, employees make maximum use of their time, according to
manager Lynda Spinner, who plays a major role in planning how that
time is spent.
Take office seminars. Spinner schedules most in-office training
-- including supplier seminars -- for the fall, traditionally a
slow period following the peak auto travel months of summer. Plus,
she engages only a few employees at a time in any seminar, so that
the agency is always well-staffed.
When business gets sluggish, Spinner calls headquarters in
Garden City, N.Y., and asks it to divert phone bookings to
Brooklyn, again maximizing employees' time.
Spinner maintains there is a misperception by some members that the
branch is just a place to pick up guidebooks, maps and attraction
But in reality, she said, the branch "does everything in the
travel business," especially cruises and including handling a share
of the booking requests received via the headquarter's Web site at
The branch has the potential to serve all 146,453 members living
in the borough, Spinner said, and also is used by some of the other
New York boroughs and by non-AAA members, as well.
or the past decade, I've been
living a double life. Though I have, at times, had unkind things to
say about the airline industry, I've been in bed with the enemy.
I've operated my business in a large retail space that has been
shared by several airlines' employees selling tickets to the
After being in business for a few years, I was approached by an
airline-ticketing group. We opened a new office that was shared
with several major airlines.
On the day Delta announced its commission cuts, it had just
joined our retail space. On the day United announced its first
round of commission cuts, we had four full-time United employees in
our office. They were all nice people.
interesting sharing space with airlines, watching them interact
with their customers. There are just a few observations I'd like to
share with you now that my secret past is public:
• The day we opened in our new location it was seven degrees in
Chicago. Two little old ladies were shivering by the front door. It
was 8:54 a.m., and the door leading to the airlines was supposed to
be open at 9 a.m. We let the ladies in, explained that the airlines
would be with them in a moment, and offered them some coffee. This
resulted in a call to airline headquarters, where we were
"reported" for opening the door six minutes early -- my first
introduction to the airline industry's sense of customer
• If you are rude to an airline employee, notations can be made
in your record. This record will follow you on your entire
itinerary. Be nice to airline personnel.
• Airline city ticket offices can do something agents can't do
to attract direct business. They can stretch, bend or break the
rules. They also cash in free tickets, although they manage to
anger about 75% of their customers in the process. They can say
that "your travel agent should know better than this." This is
something they seem to like saying.
• Each airline operates with different service expectations. One
handed out its personal telephone number to good clients, another
refused to do so. One had a system where counter agents who weren't
busy took res calls, another let their employees read during lag
• The biggest difference between travel agents and airline
agents: If airline agents have a line out the door, they still go
to lunch at the designated time.
We needed to expand our space, and the airlines have scattered,
but watching them interact with their "direct" clients would give
any real travel consultant a measure of pride and a feeling that
the future may be far brighter than we imagined. And, if I may
speak frankly, after 10 years of sharing an office with several
airlines, I don't see any reason why any sane business-person would
want to sell their product.
Richard Turen owns Churchill & Turen, a leisure travel
agency. He also is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
sales and marketing training firm. Contact him at [email protected].